There’s a whiff of something in the air that’s distinctly ... foot. The panic sets in: “Is that me?!”
Many of us have been in your, ahem, shoes.
The odd case of bromodosis – yep, foot odour even has its own very official name – is usually nothing to worry about. Here are a few possible reasons your feet stink and what to do about the stench.
FOOT ODOUR CULPRIT: SWEAT
To be fair, it’s not really the sweat’s fault.
When you’ve got sweaty feet, the moisture and warmth produce a feeding frenzy for bacteria hanging out on your skin. The bacteria actually create the odour by breaking down your sweat and dead skin cells. Pleasant, right?
The best way to fight sweat-related stink is to change your socks regularly, especially when they’re moist, says Alex Kor, a staff podiatrist at Johns Hopkins Medicine and president of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine.
“You want to wear something that wicks the moisture away,” he says, noting that merino wool is a particularly good fabric to look for.
While the idea of sweaty feet might bring to mind summertime, Kor says he actually sees a fair share of foot odour complaints in winter because people wear heavy, less breathable socks to stay warm.
“Even in the cold, you’re sweating, and then when you come inside you’re not changing those socks because you’re still cold,” he says.
If dry socks don’t do the trick, try an antiperspirant on your feet. Yes, really. Your regular old stick can work.
You can also apply prescription-strength antiperspirants a couple times a week at night, Kor says. Just make sure to avoid these seven ingredients in your antiperspirant.
FOOT ODOUR CULPRIT: YOUR SHOES
Just like your socks, your shoes shouldn’t stay warm and moist, either, which is why many podiatrists will recommend that you don’t wear the same pair day after day.
Of course, “a lot of people can’t afford to do that,” Kor says, especially if your job requires a certain shoe. Foot hygiene becomes even more important if you’re always in the same pair of shoes.
Clean and scrub your feet, and use a pumice stone or PedEgg to scrape off dry skin, he says. The type of shoe you wear can help, too.
“If you’re known to have foot odour, wear something that breathes,” Kor says.
FOOT ODOUR CULPRIT: STRESS
Feeling added pressure and stress often means feeling extra sweaty, too.
“There’s no doubt that when people are under more stress, they’re going to sweat more,” Kor says.
That stress-induced sweat, however, is made up of different ingredients than regular heat-induced sweat because it’s produced in a different type of sweat gland, and it typically leads to a worse smell.
Consider keeping a few spare pairs of socks at the office, or wherever you find yourself feeling most stressed.
FOOT ODOUR CULPRIT: FUNGAL INFECTION
Athlete’s foot is one of gym-goers’ biggest fears, and on top of the discomfort, the fungus can also contribute to foot odour, Kor says. Well-meaning athletes, however, are likely to make one key mistake.
“Moisture between the toes will itch for a lot of people,” he says.
Thinking it must be fungus, those exercisers will apply an anti-fungal cream, hoping to nip things in the bud. Instead, the moisture from the cream just makes things worse.
Save the cream for just the bottoms and sides of your feet, and opt for anti-fungal powder between the toes, Kor says.
In very rare cases, Kor will run through all the classic foot hygiene rules with a patient and still the smell lingers.
“There are times I’ve tried everything and nothing works, so I’ve put people on oral antibiotics,” he says. “It’s rare, but certain types of bacteria produced by that excessive moisture will essentially be killed off.”